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WASHINGTON -- An undercover video shot by the Humane Society of the United States revealing animal abuse at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. shed light on multiple problems in the plant's practices and in inspection oversight there, but does not represent an industrywide problem, the American Meat Institute here said in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and related agencies.
AMI president J. Patrick Boyle testified that the activities depicted in the video were not representative of industry best practices or typical operations in federally inspected meat plants.
Boyle told the committee that despite the inhumane treatment of livestock depicted at the Hallmark/Westland plant, the record-setting Class II recall of safe meat products sent a mixed message to consumers, since the meat poses only a minimal health risk.
"Proper and humane handling of livestock is not just a priority for AMI and its members -- it is part of our culture," said Boyle. He pointed to such organization initiatives in the past as asking famed animal expert Temple Grandin to write the first industry-specific animal-handling guidelines in 1991; having Grandin develop the first animal welfare audit in 1997; launching the Animal Care & Handling Conference in 1999 to educate industry members about industry best practices; voting to make animal welfare a noncompetitive issue in 2002; and launching the Web site animalhandling.org in 2006 to serve as an information resource for members of the industry and as a free download center for the AMI audit.
Of the Hallmark/Westland matter, Boyle said failures occurred in the livestock production and transportation system that supplied cattle to the plant; at the slaughter facility; within the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which had eight inspectors stationed at the plant. He also said fault could be found with the Humane Society of the United States, which didn't alert federal authorities immediately regarding the abuse it recorded on the video.
Such measures as animal welfare audits, documented training for employees in proper animal handling and transportation, qualified inspectors and better communication would go a long way toward solving such problems, Boyle testified.
Boyle also said that USDA should conduct "an appropriate risk assessment" before deciding to issue a nationwide recall of a product when there's no evidence that the product is harmful.